TBT: How Cowbirds Know They Are Cowbirds

Immaure brown-headed cowbird (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On Throw Back Thursday (TBT)…

At this time of year most birds have stopped breeding and are starting to flock for the coming winter.  Many of us have noticed grackle flocks and soon, I’m sure, we’ll see flocks of brown-headed cowbirds.

The fact that young cowbirds flock with each other is a miracle in itself.  Every one of them was dumped as an egg in another species’ nest where they out-competed their foster parents’ young.   Imprinting behavior says they ought to think they’re members of the foster species, but they don’t.

How do cowbirds know they are cowbirds?  Click here to find out in this Throw Back Thursday article.


(photo of an immature brown-headed cowbird by Cephas at Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)



One thought on “TBT: How Cowbirds Know They Are Cowbirds

  1. “Occasionally adult cowbirds, possibly their parents, visit near the foster nest and show them cowbird behavioral tips.”

    This explains an incident that happened at my feeder earlier this summer. A failed Cowbird fledgling showed up underneath my feeder in bad shape. It couldn’t fly and was exhausted to the point where it had trouble keeping its eyes open. The adult male Cowbirds noticed the poor thing and suddenly became very attentive to this little bird. They stood next to it and chirped. When it began to rain and the fledgling waddled to a bush for cover, the adults followed, acting as an escort, then stood outside the bush to protect it.

    I had no idea that Cowbirds could be such attentive parents if given the chance. They really do look out for their own.

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